Swimming for lifelong fitness – Canada edition

By: Candace Lamb, Canadian Red Cross

For more than 70 years, the Canadian Red Cross has been teaching kids right across the country how to swim through programming that is engaging, age appropriate, and, most of all, focused on being safely active around water.

Two girls standing by a lakeIn 2013 the Canadian Red Cross launched the Indigenous Swimming & Water Safety Program to meet the needs of communities who are unable to access aquatic training and resources. The program has had 3,317 participants in 57 communities across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

“A lot of our communities are located around water, scattered with endless lakes and rivers, so there’s no way for the kids we teach to simply avoid being around it,” says Justice Vandale-Niccolls, a coordinator for the Red Cross Indigenous Swimming & Water Safety program. “A lot of the communities we work in don’t have access to swimming facilities or lessons, but even if they did, it’s still important to teach these skills in environments they’ll be used in – their local rivers and lakes.”

The program is proud to align with Canada Sport for Life’s long-term development pathway for Indigenous participants. This model aims to improve the quality of the sporting experience for Indigenous athletes to support lifelong fitness.

A young boy getting help from a water instructorThe Canadian Red Cross Swim program aims to incorporate fun while developing skills and water safety knowledge. As a swimmer develops their skills, they can more easily transition into training for aquatic sports so they can compete in local, provincial and national competitions.

“Swimming lessons are a great way to get comfortable and feel safe in the water which is really the foundation needed for enjoying all aquatic sports for lifelong fitness,” said Lesley-Anne Morley, Manager of the Indigenous Swimming & Water Safety program.

In addition to teaching swimming, water safety skills, and water safety knowledge, the program also aims to provide leadership training for youth so they can become lifeguards and water safety instructors. The long-term goal is for these communities to continue running these programs independently.  

In 2019, 23 youth participated in the Red Cross Assistant Lifeguard course. “Becoming an assistant lifeguard is the first step of training more water safety experts in a community,” said Morley. “These kids are now on a path to become lifeguards or instructors which is so exciting.”

This year the Indigenous Swimming & Water Safety Program is looking a little different because of COVID-19. All programming this summer will be delivered virtually with several options for communities to choose from. There will be community-specific first aid and water safety themed contests with prizes, micro-learning sessions for families, virtual courses options including: Babysitting, Stay Safe, First Aid Basics, opioid awareness workshops, and more.

These adjustments have also made it easier to expand the program. The team of eight instructors will be organizing and delivering these virtual options to provinces and territories across the country this year.

To learn more about the program and how to bring it to your community please contact Lesley-Anne Morley at LesleyAnne.Morley@redcross.ca or by calling 306-721-1621.

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